Thursday, December 21, 2006

Calculation Skill Exercise

Here is an exercise, promoted by Jeremy Silman in "How to Reassess Your Chess - The Complete Chess Mastery Course", to practice and improve your calculation skills. A Word of Warning: this exercise is difficult and time-consuming! However, I think it is one of the most useful and improving exercises you can do.

Take an annotated game from one of your favorite players and play out the first 10 moves or so until you reach the beginnings of the middlegame, stopping when it is your move (your favorite players move, that is).

Now, cover up the moves and figure out what is going on, using your thinking technique (or Silmans', if you prefer, by recording the imbalances, etc.) and derive your candidate moves. Write down all your candidate moves! Now, without moving the pieces, analyze out each candidate move in your head. Analyze each branch as far as you think you need to.

After you are done with this move, make the move in the game and the response and do it all over again. Continue to do this until you complete the game.

Afterwards, go over the game annotations and compare them to your annotations, paying attention to the logic and the tactics in the game and how close you came to the actual play. Play over the correct analysis when it presents itself different from your own.

This method should help you in developing your calculation and tactical skills and plan development.

Enjoy and Merry Christ*mas to everyone, Christian or otherwise!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Thinking Tactics

Thinking Tactics - An Amateur's Perspective
"A famous chess coach Mark Dvoretsky considers the tactical skill of a chess player to include two main components - the combinative vision and the calculating technique. In his opinion, in order to develop one's chess imagination one should solve tasks aimed at finding (not calculating out!) a correct tactical idea."

"It is important to remember a 'golden' rule when calculating variations: in any position, you should first see if there are any checks, then any captures and if they work or not, - then calculate the threats (Pins, forks, etc.). We call it 'checks - captures - threats'."

It is important to organize your thinking process in this manner as most games are decided by tactical shots. We should get used to looking at all:

1) Checks
2) Captures
3) Threats (Pins, Forks, Double Attacks, etc.)

as we process a position in our inner minds. It pays to try and develop a repeatable and efficient thinking technique when looking for tactical shots. One of the best ways to do this is to conciously walk a checklist when solving tactical chess problems during your training session. This will translate well into your games because chess is 90% tactics at the end of the day.

One exercise that you may find helpful is to take any GM game and play through it until you get to the middlegame. Now, without moving the pieces, play the next several moves in your head and then write down all the Checks and Captures the side to move can make at that new position. Play the next move on the board and do the same. This will help you visualize checks and capture in analysis variations you come up with in your head.

Checks, Captures, Threats - Pins, Forks, Double Attacks.

The big THREE.

GCTS Study Guide

Here is a list of our various study and solving routines and some suggested reference materials that can be used to implement those routines:

Key: N - Novice (<1600) A: Advanced (1600+)

SO - Opening Studies
N: "Starting Out" Series, Everyman Chess; A: Any good opening intermediate/advanced book on your chosen repertoire line.

SG - Strategic Studies
N: My System - Nimzovitch A: Modern Chess Strategy - Pachman, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy - Watson

SE - Endgame Studies
N: A Guide to Chess Endings - Euwe/Hooper, A: Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual - Dvoretsky, Fundamental Chess Endings - Muller/Lamprecht

ST - Tactical Studies
N: Winning Chess Tactics - Seirawan A: Secrets of Chess Tactics - Dvoretsky

VT - Tactical Problem-Solving
N: 1001 Brilliant ways to Checkmate - Reinfeld, Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games - Polgar, A: Sharpen Your Tactics - Anatoly Lein

VG - Strategic Problem-Solving
A: Imagination in Chess - Gaprindashvili

VE - Endgame Problem-Solving
N: Chess Endgame Quiz - Evans
A: Informants

Please feel free to post a comment if you think another book is well suited to a certain category.

Frequency Of Play

The act of playing good competitive chess is, of course, the primary goal of the GCTS. Every player will transgress at some point the various classes of chess skill as his understanding and competency of the game increases. Let's discuss for a moment the Frequency of Play within, and outside, the framework of the GCTS.

Play As a Training Tool
Playing chess as part of the trainig environment (The "PL" Sessions in our GCTS) is not the same as competitive chess. The differences are subtle. When you play as part of your training, typically games less than G30 or so, you are playing games to evaluate your understanding of your current knowledge of opening theory, the implementation of middlegame plan construction, strategic decision, etc. Training games typically are shorter and more relaxed as it is more important to display a wide set of ideas in your games, and to play more games, and not so much the end result. Of course, we want to win all games, but the focus is not on winning exclusively. The focus should be on applying what one has concentrated his studies on.

Playing Competitively
When you play competitively, these ideas hardly enter your mind, and the focus is primarly on winning the game. You do not risk by experimenting with openings you are still in the process of learning; generally you stick to what you know. In addition, the time limits on competitive chess are usually at least 40 moves in 2 hours, so the quality of play is better overall. For example, I personally usee to play the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense faithfully if given the opportunity. Since my re-emergence back into the local chess scene, I don't even play the Sicilian against e4. For several months prior, I prepared an opening repertoire around the Slav and the Caro-Kann Defense - both very similar pawn structures with similar ideas (e5/c5 breaks, q-side expansion, etc.). I will, however, experiment with the dragon in short training games until I bring myself to the point where I feel comfortable playing it in a longer, competitive game.

This is very important because every chess player has certain openings they dislike; types of positions they loathe. Until you feel comfortable with those positions, you should avoid competitive games that lead to such positions. In my case, the Dragon was a great opening for me as it was sharp and led to quick victories (and losses) for both sides. In my age, I now seek out more solid opening choices. My experimentation continues with the Dragon, however.

Playing is Working
For most, getting down to their local chess club might seem like a journey on foot across the Alps. But playing at your local club has several advantages that you cannot get on the internet. There is the socialization, immediate commentary after the game (how often does that really happen online?), making of friends, and the discovery of others like yourself who love this game that are local to you. The USA was made infinitely better by the Fischer Era in the early/mid 70's regarding chess clubs and the availablility of places to go to hang out with your friends and play this great game. Rantings aside, he did bring chess to the mainstream public in the USA, however briefly.

I think it is important for chess players who take the game seriously (we all do here, right?) to get to a local club and play and mingle with other players if you can physically do so. Placing your personal pride on the line in the flesh is a great motivator. You can't simply click the big 'X' in the upper right corner and disappear when you are in a chess club. Facing your conquerors again and again will make you a stronger player and a better person. We learn how to deal with loss and victory when we play chess; some people never get to experience this strange facet of chess because they simply play online exclusively. Actively seek out players in higher classes at local clubs and ask for a game. As Susan Polgar says, 'Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity'.

It is my belief that any serious player must play one major local tournament per month to improve his competitive play. Nerves, conduct of the game, rest, fatigue - all these aspects of competitive play come into being at a good tournament. Playing 4 G15's is not the same as playing 2 rounds of 40/2 G60 on a Saturday.

After your tournament, you MUST take the time to correctly evaluate your games, identify where your weaknesses are, make adjustments to your training, and continue working toward the NEXT tournament. It is important to have that next tournament in mind as soon as you complete the current tournament, if for nothing else than motivation to do better.

Frequency of Play is an important part of the GCTS training. Without a reasonable playing schedule, your newfound ideas may dissipate from non-use and be forgotten. Try and play as frequently as possible.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Topalov vs. Polgar

This match has begun. It is a blindfold contest.

Monday, December 04, 2006

How is your progress?

Hi all - feel free to post your ideas and your progress so far if you are using the GCTS in any form, and especially if you have other ideas about self-training methods you'd like to share with everyone here!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bobby Fischer Article

Eric Talmadge has written a piece on Bobby Fischer that is mildly interesting Here.